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World Aids Day: Indego is Going (RED)!

This holiday season, we’re supporting (RED)’s fight against HIV/AIDS! We’re teaming up with socially conscious brands from around the world to take part in (RED)’s Holiday Shopathon, a month-long holiday shopping campaign to help end HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Founded in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver, (RED) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to make it easy for people and businesses to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. As part of (RED)’s Holiday Shopathon, Indego has made a contribution to (RED)’s efforts, which will go directly towards funding HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. We’ve also turned some of our favorite holiday products “(RED)”! See what we mean here.

We are so excited to team up with this organization which is making a powerful difference in the lives of people and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. In light of this partnership, and World Aids Day, we wanted to share more about the work that Indego has done over the years to support women in Rwanda who live with this disease.

HIV/AIDS has a unique history in Rwanda, where rape by known HIV/AIDS positive men was used as a weapon of war in the 1994 genocide. Amnesty International estimates that at least 250,000 women were raped during the genocide, though the number is most likely even higher.

Today, women who survived live with the devastating aftereffects of this violence, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and, for those who were infected, HIV/AIDS.

To bring awareness to these women and their experiences, we interviewed four of our partners affected by HIV/AIDS who work at the Abasangiye Cooperative in Kayonza, Rwanda: Esther, Gaudance, Uwamaliya, and Laurence.

Abasangiye began as a therapy group for women who survived rape during the genocide. In 2010, we began partnering with the women of Abasangiye to help them learn how to sew, form a cooperative, and earn income. 

However, before this partnership began, many of these women were living in extreme poverty, and struggling every day to manage their illness, as well as the feelings of helplessness and despair that came with it.   

As one of our partners, Esther, said: “Before working with Indego Africa, my life was bad. I was alone and sorrow was my only friend.”  

Partnering with Indego Africa has helped women like Esther find solace and purpose in their every day lives by working, earning income, receiving education, and supporting their families.

As our partner, Gaudance said: 

“My parents died in the genocide, and when I found out I was infected, it felt like it was the end of the world. I kept my results secret because I didn’t think I could talk to anyone about it. At that point, I couldn’t even afford food to support myself. But once I met Indego and began to make products and earn income, my life started to change, and I began to feel strong.”

Many of our partners report that access to work opportunities and economic empowerment has helped them overcome some of the mental health challenges they once faced as a result of their diagnosis. Gaudance shared: 

“I used to have negative thoughts every day. But since joining a co-op and working with Indego Africa, my mental health has changed. I now feel better about myself and more hopeful for my future. Indego Africa has become my second medication.”

Further, our partners find the experience of working together with other women at their cooperatives to be deeply therapeutic. It provides them with opportunities to discuss their lives and challenges and build support systems with their peers.

As Uwamaliya described: 

“I used to isolate myself because I was ashamed. Coming together to work with other women and share our experiences made me realize I wasn’t alone, and I started to heal.” 

We are so inspired by the transformations that the women of Abasangiye have experienced through access to opportunity and, in turn, to hope. While their lives may not be easy, they are able to live each day filled with more happiness, confidence, and and positivity than they once ever imagined.

Abasangiye member, Laurence, said: 

“Before working with Indego Africa, I had no other thoughts except HIV/AIDS. I couldn’t think about my future. But now, I always set goals for myself at the start of a new year. The time that I once had to think about HIV/AIDS and death has been replaced by thinking about what I can do for my future. I have hope and I know my future will be bright.” 

She continued: 

“What makes me happy is to see myself alive and working and to know that I have helped people in their lives when I could. My sister is now at university, and she got there because of my help. Whenever I have a chance to work, no matter how small an order may be, it brings me joy.”

We are thrilled to partner with (RED) to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and to support women in Rwanda, as well as in Ghana, as they create brighter futures for themselves and those around them. 

As Laurence said: “I look forward to seeing my children become future leaders and to help improve life in my community.” 

To shop our (RED) collection, and make an impact on the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS, click here.

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This Giving Tuesday, help us empower young women in Rwanda!

60% of the Rwandan population is under 24 years old. Yet most young people, especially young women, remain unemployed or underemployed, without the skills or business knowledge needed to succeed in the workforce.

At Indego Africa, we are committed to helping young women in Africa reach their full potential. Our Vocational Training program helps youth in Rwanda build sustainable career paths in the artisan sectorand lift themselves out of poverty.  

Among the 45 students in our first Vocational Training class: 0% were employed at the beginning of the program. By graduation, 100% became employed as artisans!

Our Vocational Training program is fundamentally changing the lives of young women in Rwanda. Youth who once lived without hope for the future, are now becoming businesswomen and entrepreneurs in their communities. But to keep this program alive, and reach more vulnerable young people in Rwanda, we need your support!

Donate today to transform lives—by investing in youth, you’ll invest in the future. 

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Empowering Women: Inspiration from Indego’s #Bosslady

At Indego Africa, we are committed to empowerment and equal opportunity for women in Rwanda, Ghana, and around the world. It’s important to us to share this message and help ensure that women’s voices are heard and amplified.

We sat down with our CEO, Karen Yelick, an inspiring businesswoman, mother, and leader to hear her insights on global women’s empowerment and why Indego Africa’s mission is so important to her. Below she shares her thoughts and experiences from her time on Wall Street as a working mother, her travels in Rwanda and Ghana, and the values that shape her leadership. 

We hope you enjoy the interview and share your stories of empowerment too! Stay tuned for more coming soon, from the words of our partners in Africa. 

What motivated you to leave your successful career on Wall Street and join (& lead!) the Indego Africa team?
Before I joined Indego in 2012, I spent 24 years working at Merrill Lynch, where I had a great career. I loved the excitement, teamwork and intellectual demands of the industry, and felt loyal to the company that had given me flexible working hours when my kids were young.

Ever since I can remember, I have been aware of inequity in the world, especially as it relates to women and children. I knew I wanted to transition into the social good sector at some point in my life, and in the autumn of 2011, three years after the financial crisis, I felt it was the right time. I was also impressed by how much the nonprofit space had evolved over the years and the number of innovative social enterprises that were emerging on the scene. 

Indego stood out to me because of its focus on financial empowerment and education for women, as well as its entrepreneurial work culture. I was excited about the opportunity to use my experience working at a big business, to help women in the developing world better manage and grow their small businesses.

What inspires you about Indego Africa's mission? Why do you think empowering women in Africa is so important (and what does empowerment mean to you?)

I am so inspired by helping women in Rwanda and Ghana earn steady income to provide for themselves and their families. The saying that “privilege is what you’ve been spared from,” really resonates with me. I can’t imagine the stress of not knowing where your family’s next meal might come from or knowing that, no matter how much you might want it for your children, a secondary school education will be off the table.

By providing our partners with steady employment and education, Indego is helping women achieve financial independence and the confidence that comes with it. When we first started, the majority of our partners were earning around 25¢ a day. Now, almost 10 years later, it’s amazing to see these same women running their own businesses and becoming leaders in their communities.

For me, empowerment is about equal opportunity. Rights, equality, and empowerment for women are deeply important causes in and of themselves, and they are also important for society more broadly. To move our communities and our countries forward, we have to give women—half the population—access to equal education, resources, work opportunities, you name it.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments or stories from your travels in Rwanda and Ghana. 

Wow, there are so many. One of my favorite recent moments was a graduation ceremony we held in Rwanda in June for our Vocational Training students, young women from rural communities, and our Leadership Academy students, who are older, more experienced artisans. 

During the ceremony, we alternated between awarding diplomas to the Vocational students and then to our Leadership Academy participants. When they met in the middle of the stage, each pair of women—younger and older—hugged one another.

It was such a beautiful moment to see the intergenerational power of Indego’s work in Rwanda and to see the way these women were united in their passion for education, for artistry, and for contributing to the development of their country.

What are your core values as a businesswoman and leader? 

Integrity, empathy, excellence, collaboration, and adaptability.

What advice would you give to women who are navigating building a career and being a mom at the same time? 

If you establish a career before starting a family, you’re in a better position to negotiate some flexibility with the demands of your job and raising your children.

Keep your foot in the working world after maternity leave.  If you want to scale back, try to transition to part-time or transfer to a less-demanding job with the same company while your children are young and ramp it back up whenever you’re ready. If you leave your job or the working world all together, it can be hard to get back in 3-5 years later.

It takes teamwork between you and your partner to cover all the moving pieces of raising children. Maintain an honest and close relationship with the person who is taking care of your children while you are at work – make them a part of your family. 

Make being home for dinner with your family a priority, try to really be there—no cell phones at the table! Engage your children in lively conversation. The consistency of dinner as family time makes a difference. You can always come back to your work later in the evening.

Name a woman (or women), past or present, who you admire or look up to. 

Diane Von Furstenberg, for so many reasons.

What is your hope for the future of women's empowerment and equality around the world and in the communities of women Indego Africa supports?

Women around the world deserve access to equal opportunities, equal resources, and equal value in society. Women’s voices need to be heard and their rights respected. As a global community, I hope we will continue to make the empowerment of women a priority and push back against those who may try to move us backwards.

For Indego Africa’s partners, I hope these talented, passionate, and determined women will continue to reach even higher and achieve their dreams—for themselves, for their children, and ultimately for the future generations of women and girls to come after them.

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